Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 17, 2016 · 43 comments

Adidas campus

  1. I assembled my older son’s new bed for him. This includes the frame, (which we already owned) a full-size mattress and box spring that a friend was getting rid of and a brand new set of sheets that I was gifted through my local buy nothing group. (His duvet was already a full-queen size.) So yes, I was able to transition my son’s twin bed to a full-size bed without spending a penny!
  2. I stopped at Fred Meyer this morning after dropping my son at school. I noticed that a number of the 1% gallons of milk had hit their mark-down date, so I found an employee who confirmed the date and marked them down to $1.39 per gallon. I also picked up the last couple of Friday Freebie deals which were a Marie Callender chicken pot pie and a Lindt chocolate egg.
  3. I noticed that my Japanese exchange student was scheduled to spend the day at the elementary school that’s visible from my house. However, the host family paperwork instructed us to drop him at the high school across town, in order to take a bus back with his classmates. I e-mailed the exchange director and asked if instead I could simply walk him to and from the elementary school. I still had to drive the morning leg for my son, but he’ll take the city bus home, which scratches an unnecessary drive from my afternoon schedule.
  4. I plan to send Kentaro back to Japan with a few gifts for his family, but want to avoid cluttery new purchases and wasted money. I realized that we have a few new looking Portland Timbers pennants, plus I’ll bake up a batch of my famous ginger snaps, which travel well. I’ll also print up pictures from our time together and put them in a small photo album which we already own. (Maybe . . . we’ll see if I actually get around to this.)
  5. My husband had a pass to the Adidas employee store for yesterday which was a perfect tourist attraction for Kentaro. He bought himself a pair of high top sneakers for $45, (everything is half-price) and was able to take a photo with two of the Portland Timbers soccer players who were signing autographs. We then walked across the street and posed for pictures with the enormous Adidas shoes. Cost to us? Zero.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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The Penis in my Kitchen

by Katy on March 16, 2016 · 18 comments

Aunt Penis

I like to use deadlines to finish up projects and slick the house into shape, as it’s nice to occasionally have the entire house clean at once. Everything swept, mopped, dusted and arranged just so. I’ve worked very hard through the years to declutter and the house reflects this effort. Hosting a Japanese exchange student this week was the perfect opportunity to let my home shine.

Of course, there’s always something.

You may remember that I painted one of my kitchen cabinets with chalkboard paint a few years ago, which at this point barely catches my attention. And until recently, it read “We miss aunt Jessie.” Somehow the name “Jessie” was replaced by a certain member of the male anatomy, which didn’t bother me. (As a labor and delivery nurse, I have a high tolerance for bodily humor.) However . . . not exactly what I would have chosen to display for our Japanese exchange student.

It took until the second day of Kentaro’s visit for me to notice that we had the word “penis” proudly displayed in the kitchen. I’m not sure if he noticed, but I’m certainly sure that I won’t be asking him.

Good thing that I have the sense of humor, right?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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This blog post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

When I was growing up, our next-door-neighbor was a single mom who supported herself as a freelance writer. Needless to say, she wasn’t exactly burdened with the intricacies of where to invest her big fat paychecks. One thing she used to say was:

“I’m not poor, I’m just broke.”

I remember being so confused by this statement. Weren’t poor and broke the same thing?! I just didn’t get it. I’m long past my childhood years, but I’m still puzzling out what it means to be broke vs. poor.

To describe oneself as poor is to accept an external definition of oneself, to believe that there’s a distinction between the classes, and you’re simply stuck at the bottom. It’s who you are and there’s no way out. It’s a long term situation and (this is important here) your financial identity is labeled by others.

To be broke may mean that you have no money, but it’s a temporary situation. You’re just one good paycheck away from financial stability. Perhaps your bank account is empty today, but flush times are just around the corner. It’s a short term period and importantly, it’s self defined.

But is there an actual difference between poor and broke?

Yes and no. Poverty is a valid and real existence for billions of people the world over, but for many Americans, we’re just broke. We have the opportunity to take on a second job, hold a garage sale or take a focused look at how we’re spending our money. Chances are we can figure out at least a couple ways to spend less and earn more.

The problem with the word poor is how negative it sounds. We all know people who choose to live beyond their means in order to avoid an appearance of poverty. Leasing cars they can’t afford, buying stuff on credit cards and even renting furniture to paste together a false image of financial comfort. By accepting that we’re broke instead of poor, it’s easier to temporarily drive a paid-for beater, wear thrift shop clothing and decorate our homes with upcycled castoffs and hand me downs. All the while living within our means and setting money aside for big picture goals.

Whether you choose to label yourself as broke or poor, what really matters is taking a deliberate role in your own money matters. Investigating the smartest ways to be financially responsible, on both the spending and earning sides so that you can move past either label. So the next time you find yourself bemoaning your finances, take a note from my old neighbor and tell yourself “I’m not poor, I’m just broke.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 14, 2016 · 60 comments

NASA backpack

  1. I took the bones from a batch of oven fried chicken drumsticks and cooked them up in the crock pot for broth. I added chopped onions, carrots, peas and broken lasagna noodles for a hearty yet frugal soup. There was one uneaten drumstick, which provided enough chicken for the entire batch.
  2. I gave away a 2016 engagement calendar that my son brought home from work, yet didn’t actually want. I posted it on my local Buy Nothing group, which helped it to find usefulness again. I ended up giving my neighbor’s tire chains to my sister who was sure she could either use them herself or give them to a friend, and I rounded up a bag of random stuff from around the house to donate to Goodwill.
  3. I mopped my kitchen floor by pushing an old wet towel around on the floor. I know it’s not a million dollar idea like the Spin Mop, but it works better than anything else in my experience.
  4. I relisted an adorable child’s NASA backpack on Craigslist that I’d previously been unsuccessfully in selling. (I lowered the price which should help.) It really is an awesome item, as it functions both for dress-ups and as a functional backpack. I’m surprised that this Goodwill goodie didn’t sell before, as my sons would have gone crazy for this backpack!
  5. I didn’t buy a Lear Jet.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Frugal Foreign Exchange Hosting

by Katy on March 13, 2016 · 16 comments

Japanese host family

As the parent of two kids who went through a Japanese language immersion program, I’ve hosted at least twenty foreign exchange students and teachers through the years. It’s been for as few as three days and as much as six months. It’s always on a volunteer basis, and I like to think that I’d worked out enough of the kinks to make for a smooth and positive hosting.

But then I went to Japan in 2012 and was assigned my own host parents and realized that I needed to up my game. My far from wealthy host family treated me to multiple restaurant meals, endless local attractions and wouldn’t let me spend a dime. They also presented me with an armload of gifts and a personalized photo album of our time together.

Since that trip, I’ve enjoyed figuring out ways to provide similar experiences and treats without breaking my family’s budget. We have a exchange student from Sapporo arriving tomorrow for an eight day visit and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve. Kentaro will be kept busy during the school days, so we’ll only be responsible for mornings, evenings and the weekend.

Stipend

There’s a $70 stipend “available” that I’m happy to accept. My younger son went on the reverse exchange to Sapporo in 2014 and stayed with two different host families for two weeks apiece. I paid a stipend and clearly recall paying between $100 and $150 per week. You bet I’ll accept that stipend!

Hoard freebies

My husband was given a Portland Timbers T-shirt in a medium size and to quote the big lug, “I haven’t been a medium since junior high.” It still has the tags on it, so we’ll gift it to Kentaro on Sunday when we take him to a Timbers game. We also have patches and scarves. The extra soccer ticket cost $25, and will be our treat.

My health nut of a father was given a gift certificate to Voodoo Donuts for 13 free donuts/month for an entire year. We’ll be able to stop by this Portland tourist trap for treats and people watching.

Plan inexpensive activities

Instead of taking Kentaro to admission based activities, we’ll likely find free things to do like stomp around Mt. Hood and visit my father’s cabin. It’s only an hour’s drive from the house and always a hit. (This is weather dependent, as I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys being forced outside in rainy weather.)

We live within a few blocks of a street filled with adorable shops. My son can walk Kentaro over for souvenir shopping and general sightseeing.

We’ll drive the mile over to the Mt Tabor reservoirs for iconic Portland views and photo ops.

Say yes to free opportunities

There’s a host family Hawaiian food party one evening, and you know that I was quick to accept. Not only will this cross off one evening’s meal, but the location is just two blocks from the house.

Borrow instead of buy

The twin sheets on the bed in our spare bedroom are getting extremely thin. Instead of buying new sheets, I called my mother and asked to borrow a set. (She has huge numbers of sheets due to her guest cottage business.) Yes, I’ll still need to source some new sheets, but now I can find some free ones without a deadline.

Be deliberate with meal planning

We do plan on two restaurant meals during Kentaro’s stay with us, but I’ll also meal plan the entire week which is not usually my style. (I usually plan one day in advance, which works well for us.) We’ll eat at a Mexican restaurant on Mt Hood on Saturday and also hit up a Texan style barbecue restaurant that’s very American in decor. (Yee haw!)

Of course, all plans are open to change and dependent on Kentaro’s interests and energy level. (Jet lag is a bitch!)

My family has really enjoyed the personal connections that we’ve made through hosting. International travel is prohibitively expensive for most people, but being a host family has allowed us to get an in-depth view of Japanese culture without leaving home. Hosting does not require a luxurious home or a high income, it simply requires an open mind and a willingness to expand one’s world.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 11, 2016 · 64 comments

Bulk basil

  1. I stopped at Fred Meyer on my way home from dropping my son at school. I was able to pick up two gallons of milks for $1.29 apiece and fill a jar with bulk basil for 55¢. Bulk spices are an amazing bargain, and it always gives me a spicy thrill!
  2. I pulled all the food and spices from my kitchen cupboards to consolidate and organize. I was able to free up a couple dozen spice-size jars that functioned for no other reason than to overcrowd my shelves. I scrubbed them up and then posted the whole shebang on my local Buy Nothing group. They’re currently on the porch and waiting to go to their new home. My cupboards are now all organized and decidedly uncrowded. (I may or may not be keeping the doors open just so I can gaze at the pretty contents.)
  3. The person who was supposed to pick up my neighbor’s tire chains flaked out, so I deleted the dormant Buy Nothing post and put together a Craigslist posting instead. I listed them for $15 and will treat to my neighbor to a coffee date if I can find a buyer. They’ve only been used once and cost $64 new, so I’m confident that I can offload them.
  4. I returned a library book right on the brink of facing a fine. I’m kind of a hermit this time of year, so any successful outside errand is a bit of an accomplishment. The constant rain and dampness? It gets old, people. Real old.
  5. I cancelled the class I was supposed to take at work today and rescheduled it for next week. It overcomplicated my day but the new class will be within the same pay period. We’re hosting a Japanese exchange student next week and I deliberately didn’t sign up for any shifts while he’s here. I’ll have a very light paycheck as a consequence, but I want to make sure all goes smoothly while he’s here. (I’ll see about working a couple hours of continuing education after my class as long as I’m already on the clock.) There is one free pizza party for the host families, plus there’s a small stipend to offset the cost of hosting. I know we can show Kentaro a good time without breaking the budget.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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If your notion of what a library lends out is based on your childhood, you’re woefully behind the times. With libraries lending everything from sewing machines to e-materials, cultural passes to pots and pans, these important community institutions provide so much more than books these days. So dust off your library card and check out these amazing and free resources!

E-Books and audiobooks

If you’re a fan of e-books, audiobooks or streaming video, you’re in luck! Free library programs such as Hoopla, “lets you instantly borrow free digital movies, music, eBooks and more, 24/7 with your library card.” Yes, you read that right. It’s like Amazon, Netflix, Audible and Spotify rolled into one! If you’re lucky, (and you likely are) your library system will also provide free access to Overdrive, which also allows access to endless digital audiobooks and eBooks, categorized by genre, availability, language, age level with additional specific featured collections. It’s like a virtual candy store for bibliophiles! Old fashioned with your content? Your library likely has shelves of DVD’s, CD’s and maybe even a video tape or two.

Foreign Language Instruction

Looking to add a second or even third language to your repertoire? Look no further than Mango Connect. This free library program can help you to “Learn over 40 languages, including Arabic, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, German, Russian, Swahili and many more.”

English as a second language

Have a friend or family member that needs to strengthen their English language skills? Go to your library’s website, or better yet stop at your local branch’s information services desk to ask if your library has English as a second language resources. A quick look at the Atlanta-Fulton library website confirmed this service, and your library system is likely to provide similar opportunities.

College e-Textbooks

College is expensive enough without required textbooks that can run well into the hundreds of dollars. Luckily, your library may provide free access to the eBrary, which allows you to check out or even fully download such fascinating books as Understanding Applied Behavior: An Introduction for Parents, Teachers and Other Professionals. Like its paper counterpoint, you’ll be able to highlight passages and even print up to a certain number of pages.

Cultural passes

Love your city’s museums and galleries, but don’t have the money to explore within your own community? You’re no longer relegated to a dreary home life, as most libraries offer cultural passes that allow for free admission from museums, zoos, literary events, concerts to movies! You’ll likely have to reserve them in advance, but this is a great opportunity to explore your community’s resources without breaking the budget.

Individual one-on-one librarian services

Wish you could sit down and pick a librarian’s brain on a certain subject? It turns out that you can! Many libraries allow you to “Book a Librarian,” who will research a certain subject and then sit down with you for 30 minutes to an hour. Just let them know in advance what subject you need researched, and they’ll come armed with materials and information to discuss your area of interest. Whether you’re a student, toiling over a work related project or simply wanting to expand your knowledge in a certain area, this service holds a world of possibilities.

SAT and ACT prep classes

Have a student who’s approaching the dreaded ACT and SAT tests, yet don’t have an extra grand to drop on prep classes? Look no further than your library system. Many libraries offer test prep, both online or even in person that can help your college and scholarship prospects. This resource is neither expensive nor is it inconvenient.

Resume and job resource assistance

Between jobs, yet are unsure of how to craft the perfect resume? Or maybe you just need to buff up your job search and interviewing skills? Yup, the library can help you with this one as well! Many libraries provide resume services and even have classes to help you optimize your job search and present your best self in person. Either hit up your library’s website, or even better go in person and ask your friendly librarian.

Live homework help in multiple languages

In the middle of your algebra homework and about ready to tear out your hair? Tutor.com pairs with many library systems to provide free live homework help to tackle that never ending schoolwork. Tutors will help with everything from proofreading rough drafts, PSAT and GED prep to help tackling those tough math problems is available. Live from 2 P.M. to 10 P.M., these services are available in English, Spanish and Vietnamese!

Digital Magazines

Whether you’re a reader of Cosmopolitan or Popular Science, your favorite magazine is likely available through the Zinio library program. With over 5500 choices, you can read current or back issues on any of your devices. These digital magazines include all the content found in the paper editions, both editorial and advertising. Give this program a try, it’s free and has the potential to replace your pricey and wasteful magazine habit!

Tools

Have a home maintenance project. yet lack the necessary tools? Your local tool library is available to save the day! It’s far from necessary to own a tool you’ll only use once every five years, and tool libraries have cropped up to assist with this dilemma. Some are associated with municipal libraries, although many are independent non-profits run by volunteers. Do an internet search for “tool library” plus the name of your town to borrow instead of buy.

Summer reading programs for kids and teens

It’s easy to let students spend their summers sleeping and staring into their phones, but signing them up for your library’s summer reading program can help to combat the dreaded summer brain drain. Everyone from babies through teens can earn prizes by reading and completing library related activities. (Okay, maybe babies are more likely to be read to.) Libraries provide game boards, which young patrons fill in and then bring back for fun prizes. Complete the entire board, and your young reader earns a T-shirt! Too old to participate? Worry not, as many libraries have adult summer reading programs as well!

Meeting Space

Have a knitting group or a Chaucer discussion group or even a World of Warcraft debate club and nowhere to meet? Your local branch library often has meeting space that’s free to reserve.  Rules need to be reviewed ahead of time, and likely will include a clause that your meeting needs to be free to all, but you know it’ll be clean, warm, inviting and free!

Computer literacy

You may consider yourself computer-savvy, but perhaps you have a friend or relative who would benefit from this service. Whether it’s how to use Word or even simply how to navigate the internet, these classes are offered in multiple languages at almost all libraries across the nation.

Stuff you never dreamed was available

Libraries across our great planet keep thinking of new and better ways to serve their communities, and it’s not uncommon to run across articles that feature libraries providing everything from prom dresses to sewing machines, kitchenware to humans. Yes, humans. Started in Copenhagen, The Human Library organization promotes diversity in over 50 countries and encourages library patrons to “not judge a book by its cover.” Participants can check out a person for 20-30 minutes, and hopefully “foster understanding between different types of people that would normally not interact with each other.”

Books

Because sometimes you simply want an honest to goodness, made from a tree book.

Conclusion

I’m an active library patron and thought I knew everything the library had to offer, but boy was I wrong! Libraries’ available resources seem to expand with each new day. I hope this article inspires you to run, not walk to your local library and discover the amazing available to you!

 

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 7, 2016 · 77 comments

  1. I worked Saturday and practiced my regular frugal routine of bringing my own lunch and drinking the free crappy coffee. My back had been bothering me the day before, but that’s a common occurrence so I didn’t give it a second thought. However, my back got worse and worse as the day drew on until I could no longer stand in an upright position. Luckily my patient delivered somewhat early in the shift, so I was still able to continue as her nurse, even if it was in an awkward and stooped position. My charge nurse encouraged me to go home, but I chose to finish out my shift sitting in front of the computer catching up on continuing education. The way I saw it, I could either be in pain at work or in pain at home. At least I’d be paid at work.
  2. I lay flat in bed yesterday, which is kind of a blur although there are some vague memories of shuffling to the kitchen for Ibuprofen. There was much watching of TV, and I started on the Amazon series Mozart in The Jungle as Netflix wouldn’t load. (Excellent show, I highly recommend it!) How is this frugal? I share an Amazon Prime account with my mother.
  3. I kind of assumed that restaurant takeout would seep into the weekend as my husband’s days were already full, but instead he prepared frozen pierogis with a salad. This made me happy since we’ll be hosting a Japanese exchange student next week and we’ll definitely be eating out a time or two.
  4. I’ll be setting up the new full-size bed in my son’s room later this week, but needed to source a set of sheets. I posted on my Buy Nothing Group that I was looking for double sheets and got a reply from someone who’d bought a set and washed them before realizing that her bed was actually a queen. Bummer for her, but hooray for me!
  5. I signed up for a required three-hour class this Friday. I’ll see if the unit needs an extra nurse afterwards as I did call in sick today. (I get zero sick pay as I’m a per diem employee.) I’ll already be in the building, so I might as well.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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How I Won The Wet T-Shirt Contest

by Katy on March 4, 2016 · 30 comments

It’s far from any kind of revelation to confess that I’m as cheap as they come. I fix instead of replace, I cook almost exclusively from scratch and I garbage pick for both personal use and profit. All without shame. So when I spied a sopping wet bundle of fabric in the Fred Meyer parking lot, I walked over for further investigation. (Keep in mind that in Portland, Oregon we’re pretty much always “sopping wet.”) The dripping item turned out to be an American Apparel T-shirt featuring a large key graphic on the front. My 17-year-old son was clear about how it wasn’t his style, (preppy jock) but it looked to be in perfect condition, so I flung it into the back of the car where it landed with a satisfying “thwap.”

I forgot about my moistened treasure until this morning when my son and I started joking about it might have been from a “wet T-shirt contest.” Sure enough, the shirt was still in the back of the car, and you don’t need to be told that it was still wet.

Wet shirt in back of car:

Wet T shirt

Result of wet T-shirt in back of car:

wet spot

It was no biggie to throw it into the wash. (I always have enough dirty laundry in the house to justify a load.) The shirt is now washed and ready for a new owner. I’ll give my son first dibs when he comes home from school, but it’ll likely go into the pile of stuff I’ve put aside for the consignment shop. Will I make any money for my efforts? Maybe yes, maybe no, but certainly more than if I’d simply ignored it in the first place.

Look how well it cleaned up:

Free shirt

No shame in my game, people. No shame in my game.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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Five Frugal Things

by Katy on March 3, 2016 · 54 comments

Mending

  1. My son had a dental appointment yesterday, so I brought along a mending project. (A duffel bag with split seams.) I could easily have spent the time leafing through magazines or goofing around on my smart phone, but instead I chose to be deliberate with this chunk of downtime. I was able to complete about half of the job, but kept with the momentum and completed the project as soon as I got home. The dentist gifted my son with a hardback copy of Dr. Seuss’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go as this was his very last visit to the pediatric clinic. Which to everyone’s surprise, prompted me to burst into tears. Sorry, kid.
  2. I’d cooked up a batch of navy beans on Tuesday, which I turned into a pot of white bean rosemary soup for last night’s dinner. Simple and yummy, we’ll have leftovers for days.
  3. Today is my stepfather’s 66th birthday, and we’ll go to a nice restaurant to celebrate the occasion. Normally we’d have them over for dinner, but my day is busy with scheduled requirements. (Annual evaluation at work and an event at the local university honoring my father for his 50 years of teaching!) It’s nice to have a meal out once in a while.
  4. I did treat my son to a rare restaurant meal, as I had some Living Social credit from when I wrote about that amazing Costco deal. I was able to buy a $20 restaurant voucher for only $13, which was actually free to me. Our bill came to $19.98, so no money out of pocket, although I did leave a $5 tip.
  5. I sat down with my younger son and taught him how to file his federal and state taxes. We used the Absolute Zero version through Turbotax, as his taxes were pretty straightforward. (Both the federal and state taxes are free to file of you’re using the 1040EZ or A forms!) I feel confident he’ll be able to independently file his own taxes from here on out.

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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